On Bill Conlin's Hall of Fame Nod

On Bill Conlin's Hall of Fame Nod

Legendary Philadelphia baseball writer Bill Conlin is heading into the Hall of Fame this weekend in Cooperstown, New York. Old One Chair is receiving the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the highest honor for a baseball writer.

As a person who writes about sports solely on the Internet, I'm not supposed to really like Conlin. Or something like that. Truth be told, I've thoroughly enjoyed reading his columns over the years. The guy is a walking Phillies encyclopedia who can flat out write. As cliche as it is, Conlin is an institution. Sure, he's as curmudgeonly as humanly possible, but that's part of what makes him the undisputed elder statesman of Philadelphia sportswriters. I disagree with him on a few things, either the premise of an entire column or a line or two in a column I otherwise agree with. But while disagreeing, I'm rarely thinking, "Conlin is wrong."

If you send him an email to argue, you'll often get an argument. If you send him compliments, probably just a "Thank you." He's seen his share of controversy, including that time he evoked Hitler when discussing bloggers. He also didn't vote for Nolan Ryan to get into the Hall. What a dick.

Still, it's amazing that someone has written about sports so well for such a long time. Sure, he's not the first, but he's the guy in our city whom we've all read. To me, Conlin is about the stories, the minor anecdotes that show up in his columns. The stuff that it takes both a phenomenal memory and all those decades of experience to put on paper. He's been doing his job longer than most of us have been breathing. There's absolutely something to be said for longevity. He's 77 years old and could easily write for another decade. At least, I hope he does.

I can't remember things that happened two seasons ago and Conlin is not only spouting off the Phillies lineup from a random game against the Mets in 1967, he's also telling you which guy had the best quote that day.

Rich Hofmann does a wonderful job capturing Conlin in his column from yesterday's Daily News. It's a column that pays homage to the great writer, but also demonstrates just how much the craft of sports writing has changed over the years.

His goal was to tell his readers why, not what. He would shove the score into the game story, usually, but the rest was his personal canvas. If he wanted to write the whole story about a botched rundown in the fourth inning, peeling the sequence apart like an orange, he would.

In the clubhouse, the insights of the principals in the rundown would be recorded. But that was only the beginning. Because Conlin knew what he had seen but he also knew that there was a group of scouts and broadcasters and team executives gathered around a table and a cocktail in the press lounge at the Vet. Conlin would join them - to learn more, and because he was thirsty.

These days, you're lucky if one or two players even address the media in the Phillies clubhouse. Now, I'm far from a beat reporter, and about as green as it gets, but I get to my share of games at Citizens Bank Park, and I can't fathom sitting around drinking cocktails with such a group.

Then there's the strange hours and standing around:

Most baseball writers get to the park at 3 p.m. and begin reporting in the clubhouse soon after. By careful scientific measurement, approximately 82.6 percent of that time is a complete waste of time, but you do it for the other 17.4 percent of the time when something might actually happen.

It's so true. The first couple of times I ever covered a baseball game last season, I was baffled by the amount of standing around. Initially, I thought it was all so unproductive. I could have been blog, blog, blogging away about something rather than standing around in the dugout watching batting practice.

But then at a certain point it started to make sense. In the midst of all of this standing around, you'd get an anecdote about Charlie Manuel throwing batting practice, or the time he went out to dinner with George Steinbrenner back in the 70's. Or you catch Shane Victorino riding on a lawnmower at Wrigley Field. Or you could be sitting in the dugout when an assistant general manager starts talking off the record about the trade deadline, giving invaluable insight.

All of that down time pays off in fantastic little nuggets that only the sports writer can experience, which I think, I hope, is reason enough for the 82.6 percent.

Hofmann goes on to perfectly explain how different things are today than when they were back in the day. Damn Al Gore.

These days, Conlin's current feud is with bloggers, what he calls "dot-commers," as well as sabermetricians. It really is a different world. I'm not sure what kind of newspaper beat man a young Bill Conlin would have made in 2011: wake up, blog, get to the park early, write a pregame notes story for the website, blog, write notes for the paper, Twitter during the game, spend only about 20 minutes in the clubhouse, file the game story by 11 p.m., maybe touch it up for the last edition, shoot a short video, blog.

Given the current demands, nobody is ever again going to cover a baseball team for 20 years. And the great irony is that the people who have the best chance in 2011 to do it like Conlin did it in 1971 are the dot-commers, like Stark at ESPN.com, who can stay in the postgame clubhouse forever, searching for that singular anecdote, before sitting down to write.

Pretty spot on. I've seen Stark lingering around the Phillies clubhouse and have to think it's a similar fashion to what Conlin did back in the day. Stark doesn't have to ask about details of a common game story, he can go after the minutiae that is really fascinating, like what exactly Roy Halladay is thinking when he talks to an ump between innings.

As mentioned before, there's absolutely something to be said for longevity. Guys like Jayson Stark get the better angles because they're always there, they've been there for years. The players recognize them, they know he's a baseball guy who wants to talk about the intricacies of the game. Players almost volunteer their anecdotes and wisdom to experienced guys like that. On the flip side, players often look at younger, newer faces like we should be getting the hell out of their way.

My first hand experience bumping into Conlin was not of him typing a column away on an archaic typewriter. Nope, the first time I ever ran into him in the press box down in Clearwater he was typing away on an iPad with a keyboard. And yes, he was using an oversized font. During the Phillies-Giants NLCS last year at Citizens Bank Park, he was showing off videos on his iPad like an 8-year-old on Christmas parading his new toy. He also really enjoyed playing the billiards game on that iPad, I recall.

I chuckled. Bill Conlin playing games on an iPad in the press box during the NLCS. (I was probably perusing Facebook myself)

Then I read his column the next day and was amazed at his writing. As usual.

>>The Bill of Writes: Conlin, the choice voice of Philadelphia baseball, to be honored [Daily News]

Difference in talent, power glaring as Phillies continue to lose to top teams

053116-mackanin-webrefframe_1.jpg

Difference in talent, power glaring as Phillies continue to lose to top teams

BOX SCORE

The gap in talent level that exists between the Phillies and some of the top teams in the majors has really been evident over the last eight games.
 
The Phillies have lost seven of those eight games to the Tigers, Cubs and Nationals. Tuesday night brought the latest defeat, a 5-1 loss to the National League East-leading Nats at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay). The Nats have won the first two games of the series and go for the sweep on Wednesday night.
 
While losing seven of their last eight, the Phillies have seen their feel-good story turn to dust. Their record has gone from 25-19 to 26-26 and their deficit in the NL East from two games to 5½.
 
“We had a good month and a half,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “When things are going good, they snowball. When things are going bad, they snowball. We’ve got to keep that snowball from rolling. We’ve got to get out of it.”
 
There are a number of reasons the Phillies have hit hard times. Poor offense is a big one. They have been held to two or fewer runs five times in their last seven losses and 20 times for the season. They are now averaging 3.15 runs per game, the lowest mark in the majors. Offense like that is the reason why Aaron Nola can pitch six innings of two-run ball and lose on two mistake pitches as he did Tuesday night. These pitchers have no margin for error.
 
One of the offensive’s big shortcomings is the lack of power. The Phils have been out-homered 15-7 in the last eight games. Washington hit four longballs on Tuesday night; the Phillies hit none. In fact, the Phillies had just four hits – period.
 
“We’re just getting out-homered every night,” Mackanin said. “We’re not hitting home runs. I feel like it’s a broken record. We’re not hitting.”
 
For the season, the Phillies have 39 homers. Only Atlanta has hit fewer.
 
And it doesn’t appear as if things are going to get all that much better any time soon. Management would consider trading for a bat close to the July trading deadline – if the team is in the race. With reality striking hard lately, it’s tough to see this team being in the race for anything but a top-10 pick in next year’s draft. In the short term, the Phils could soon have Cody Asche back on the roster.
 
“Our pitching overall has been very good,” Mackanin said. “We’ve just got to hit.”
 
The Nationals won this game with power and good starting pitching.
 
Right-hander Joe Ross held the Phils to a run over seven innings – an RBI triple by Cesar Hernandez.
 
Meanwhile, Jayson Werth capitalized on a poorly located fastball by Nola and homered two batters into the game. Daniel Murphy got Nola in the sixth to break a 1-1 tie.
 
Nola would like to have had both pitches back.
 
“The pitch to Werth was right down the chute,” he said. “With Murphy, I wanted to get it in a little further and I didn’t.”
 
Other than that, Nola was pretty good. He pitched out of trouble in the second inning and was supported by a double play started nicely at second by Hernandez and a nice catch by Odubel Herrera in center field.
 
“We’re doing some things right but not enough of them,” Mackanin said.
 
“That’s baseball,” Nola said of the lack of run support. “Sometimes we pitch bad and get a lot of run support. The guys are battling. I feel like we’re going to bounce back the next couple of games.”
 
The Nationals blew the game open with three runs in the ninth against reliever Colton Murray. Danny Espinosa smacked a two-run homer and Stephen Drew followed with an inside-the-park homer.
 
The two home runs deprived Nats closer Jonathan Papelbon a chance at a save as he recorded the final three outs against his old team.

Instant Replay: Nationals 5, Phillies 1

053116-sound-webrefframe_1.jpg

Instant Replay: Nationals 5, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

The Phillies' late-May slide continued in a 5-1 loss to the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night.
 
Aaron Nola delivered a solid start, but got poor run support. The Phillies entered the game averaging 3.2 runs per game, lowest in the majors.
 
The Nationals scored all their runs on home runs.
 
The Phillies have lost nine of their last 11 games. They are 1-7 in their last eight and have gone from 25-19 and two games back in the NL East to 26-26 and 5½ games back.
  
Starting pitching report
Nola went six innings and allowed two runs, both on solo homers. He walked one and struck out six. He is 4-4 with a 2.88 ERA.
 
Washington right-hander Joe Ross (5-4) pitched a strong game. He gave up just three hits and a run over seven innings. He walked two and struck out five. Ross has given up just two runs over 14 innings in his last two starts.
 
Bullpen report
Jonathan Papelbon closed it out for the Nats in a non-save situation.
 
At the plate
The Phillies had just four hits. They have been held to two or fewer runs 20 times in their 52 games.

Cesar Hernandez tripled home the Phillies' only run.

Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy accounted for the Nationals’ first two runs pair of solo homers against Nola. Danny Espinosa smacked a two-run homer off Colton Murray in the ninth and Stephen Drew followed with an inside-the-park homer.
 
Murphy also singled in the game. He had 47 hits in the month of May, tying a Washington/Montreal franchise record that had previously been shared by Al Oliver and Marquis Grissom.

Lineup stuff
Mackanin was trying to send Hernandez a message by batting him eighth (see story).
 
Bryce Harper did not play for Washington. He was hit on the right leg by a pitch in Monday night’s game.
 
Slumping Ryan Howard started at first base and went hitless in three at-bats to fall to .154. He hit .101 (7 for 69) in the month of May.
 
Howard will not start Wednesday night against Max Scherzer. He is 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts against Scherzer. Tommy Joseph will start that game.
 
Minor matters
Cody Asche’s minor-league rehab stint expires Wednesday. He could rejoin the team at any time.
 
Up next
 The series concludes on Wednesday night. Lefty Adam Morgan (1-3, 6.67) pitches against Washington right-hander Scherzer (5-4, 4.05).

Drexel alum Ken Tribbett enjoys 'special' week for Union

052816-union-webbestvideo3_1920x1080_694956099989.jpg

Drexel alum Ken Tribbett enjoys 'special' week for Union

CHESTER, Pa. — For more than a month, Union center back Ken Tribbett waited patiently on the sidelines, hoping to get the starting spot back that he had and then lost.

Last week, he indeed got back on the field … and then some.

After Joshua Yaro separated his shoulder in Orlando on Wednesday, Tribbett proceeded to notch his first MLS goal and assist, before playing the full 90 minutes in front of 30 family members in his home state of Colorado on Saturday.

It was quite the eventful week for someone who wasn’t expected to play at all during the road trip, let alone accomplish a couple of emotional milestones.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Tribbett told reporters from Tuesday’s training session after the Union returned home following hard-fought road draws vs. Orlando City SC and the Colorado Rapids. “For me, being out a month, mentally I had to make sure I stayed tuned in. And when I got my chance, I stepped in and was ready to go.”

Even if you are mentally prepared, it’s still not an easy thing to step in at center back in the middle of a game, considering that’s a position that rarely gets changed. Making things even more difficult was the fact that Yaro, who took over starting duties after Tribbett rolled his ankle in April, had been looking every bit like the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft.

“Josh was playing a great game in Orlando,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “If you go back and watch the tape, he was one of our top performers. Ken stepped in at the end of the first half, which is challenging at center back — not a position you like to sub at all. But Ken came in pretty seamlessly and got the goal, which is a bonus, obviously.”

You can call it a really big bonus.

Tribbett was never expected to even be in MLS this year after failing to get much notice following a standout career at Drexel.

And he certainly wasn’t expected to log much playing time this season with the Union, who added Yaro and Anderson, a Brazilian, to a position that already featured a rising star in Richie Marquez.

So surprises are nothing new for Tribbett, who started the first five games of the year after soaring up the depth chart in the preseason and now has a goal to add to his unlikely MLS resume.

But it’s no surprise to him.

“I don’t think shock is the right word because I expect a lot of myself and I expect to score a couple of goals this year,” Tribbett said. “So it was just more relief to get the first one out of the way. Any time you score, it’s jubilation, so that was awesome. And to tie the game in Orlando after going down 2-1 was really good for the team, so everything about it was just a special moment.”

Tribbett, who also had a secondary assist in Orlando, enjoyed another “special moment” just three days later when he got to play in the Denver area where he grew up. That was not something he could have imagined after his circuitous journey took him from Colorado to Drexel to the USL’s Harrisburg City Islanders and now to the Union.

“That was probably a moment I won’t ever forget,” Tribbett said. “I had about 20 or 30 family members there, and for a lot of them it was the first time they’ve seen me play professionally. So being back home in Colorado was a special feeling.”

Although the Union backline stayed organized and surrendered only a couple of shots on target in Colorado, Curtin did say it wasn’t the best performance from Tribbett. But the Union coach is ready to lean on him again for Wednesday’s game vs. the Columbus Crew at Talen Energy Stadium (7 p.m./TCN) while Yaro gets an MRI on his shoulder.

“He did fatigue at the end and I talked to him about it,” Curtin said of Tribbett. “He had a couple of little mistakes toward the end of the game. Part of that is your legs starting to fade. But it’s good for him that’s under his belt. He’ll be ready to go now [Wednesday] for the full 90 minutes.”

With the Union idle for two weeks following Wednesday’s game because of a Copa America layoff — and Tribbett’s place in the lineup uncertain from there — the Drexel alum is certainly excited to get back on the field for his first home game since April 8.

“It’s a very important game,” Tribbett said. “We want to go into the break with certain goals for ourselves. We want to be at the top of the conference, and if we win, we’ll achieve that goal. We want to keep one goal per game [allowed]. Right now, we’re one off that, so if we get a shutout tomorrow, we’ll be right back on track.”